It seems like you can’t pick up a magazine or turn on the TV these days without hearing about the Keto Diet. Lose weight without cutting out fat? How can that even be possible? And it looks complicated – isn’t there a Keto diet for beginners?
When you see the benefits of going Keto they seem too good to be true. Can you really lose fat by eating more fat? Or is this just another fad?
Some of the benefits are weight loss, better brain health, improved memory, better sleep, a more stable mood, and less joint pain. You can stabilize your blood sugar levels, increase your energy, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, lower insulin levels in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, and decrease your appetite. Cutting out carbs and sugar reduces cravings and helps you improve your focus and not have that afternoon slump.
Forget just the weight loss part for a minute – as a post-menopausal woman who always had a fantastic memory and started reaching for her words I was interested in the whole improved memory and better focus benefits. Losing weight and feeling better were sugar-free icing on my low carb cake. Plus, when I’m sugar-free I don’t feel like eating every carb-heavy thing that pops into my brain.
As always, when changing your diet in such a drastic way please consult your physician. This is especially important if you are pregnant, have Type 1 Diabetes or kidney disease.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may make a small commission at no cost to you. For my full disclosure go here.
What is the Ketogenic Diet – aka the Keto Diet for Beginners Like Me?
The first time I heard about the Keto Diet it was called the Swedish Diet or Low Carb High Fat Diet. I remember buying a book online about it. When I got it, the photos were gorgeous. The recipes were in Swedish. Needless to say, since I don’t speak or read Swedish, I had a beautiful coffee table book. I kept it for years and bequeathed it in one move or another.
Keto differs from a regular low carb diet (such as the Atkins Diet) by restricting carbs at a low level for the duration of the weight loss portion rather than just during an induction period as well as the percentage of fat. While a traditional low carb diet restricts carbs it does not restrict protein. Keto restricts both but replaces them with higher levels of good fats to provide satiety so you don’t feel like you are depriving yourself.
Keto is a low carb – around 20 net carbs per day, moderate protein, high fat style of eating. Here is what 30 grams of carbs look like.
How Does It Work?
By restricting carbs you force your body to enter and stay in ketosis, a metabolic state that causes your body to produce ketones for energy. You change your body from burning glucose for energy – which is produced in your body when you eat carbs and sugar – to burning ketones (the result of breaking down fat for energy). We also produce insulin which processes the glucose and also removes excess glucose from your bloodstream and stores it.
We like to burn the glucose first but when we have an excess of glucose our bodies never get around to burning it all so the fat we eat never gets burned either – it gets stored. Even worse is that the excess of glucose gets converted to more fat by insulin and gets stored as well. When we eat more carbs than insulin can convert we produce even higher levels of insulin which stores more glucose (now fat) in your liver and muscles and can produce insulin resistance. This can trigger heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Fatty Liver Disease and other conditions. Our body is designed to be a fuel-burning machine but excess carbs and sugar turn it into a fat storage facility.
Since the glucose we want to use is no longer available because it’s been converted to fat, we get cravings and reach for sugar and carbs to boost our energy. Once that quick jolt of sugars is burned, we crash and want more.
But once we are in ketosis our liver breaks down fat to produces ketones for energy. These ketones allow us to utilize the stored fat in our organs and on our bodies as fuel.
The goal of Keto is to force your body into ketosis by restricting carbs. Once you achieve ketosis (can take a few days to a week after you restrict carbs to a low level as well as increase fat consumption) you will burn off the excess glucose and become Keto-adapted (aka fat adapted) – burning fat as fuel. Becoming Keto-adapted is when you’ve been in a consistent state of ketosis and are using ketones as your energy source. That’s when you really start to see the benefits of a Keto diet.
You can calculate your Macros HERE.
Why Should I Choose the Keto Diet?
Keto breaks that cycle of needing sugar and carbs, then crashing, then reaching for more sugar and carbs. It forces our bodies to burn fat and operate more efficiently as a fat burning machine rather than a sugar burning machine. It reverses the way we want to use energy
It’s important to note that Keto is a lifestyle. You’re not doing your body any favors if you go back to a high carb, fatty sugar-laden diet once you’ve dropped the weight with Keto. You’ll go back to fat and foggy, complaining of muscle aches and fatigue.
The Keto Diet for beginners is actually quite easy to visualize: good, healthy fats at about 70% of your intake, moderate protein at about 25% and about 5% good carbs – keep your net carbs at 20 grams or less. Those percentages are referred to as your ‘macros’ – short for macronutrients. In the first few weeks, you need to concentrate more on cutting carbs than on ‘hitting your macros’. Don’t worry about calories during the first few weeks, either. Just cut the carbs and add some fats to your meals so you feel satisfied.
Now is a good time to mention carbs and how to count them. On Keto, you count net carbs – subtract your fiber grams from your total carb grams to arrive at net carbs.
A good Keto diet will consist of real food – not a lot of specialty foods or ‘franken foods’ – those cooked up in a lab and masquerading as good for you. The closer you stick to real foods the easier – and cheaper – Keto will be for you.
When you’re ready, you can calculate your Macros HERE.
Benefits of Keto
Since eating higher levels of fat make you feel full for longer periods of time, you can actually eat less on Keto. Your appetite will be diminished and you’ll consume fewer calories. Your focus and brain function will be so much better that you may even forget to eat. You’ll probably feel like moving your body more, too, from the increased energy you get from Keto!
Many people report that their skin is clearer and their blood work is balanced so it’s great for blood sugar regulation. If you tend to have mood swings you’ll probably find your moods are more stable as well. You may be able to discontinue blood pressure medications and find you get more restful sleep too.
So is the Keto Diet Just Another Low Carb Diet?
While Keto *is* low carb it is NOT what we normally think of as traditional low carb. Traditional low carb is a high protein, moderate fat, low carb diet.
The goal of Keto is achieving ketosis which can only happen if the fat ratio is at a level that allows it. You can eat low carb (and low fat) for days without getting into ketosis but you can certainly do it by adjusting the fat and protein ratios. Fat is the KEY. Here is a food list to get you started.
Fat will become your lever. Once you are in ketosis and are keto-adapted you can adjust the amount of fat you eat to continue weight loss or slow weight loss (or maintain). If you lose well and then hit a plateau, adjust your fat down a bit (and maybe protein slightly higher) to kickstart your body to lose it’s own stored fat again.
How Do I Get Started on The Keto Diet?
To be successful on Keto you just have to follow three things.
1.) Avoid the foods that will hinder your progress while choosing the ones that will work for you.
2.) Pay attention to your portion sizes – we don’t count calories but we also don’t have a free-for-all.
3.) Be aware that you may experience some detox symptoms in the first few weeks as you adjust. They WILL go away.
To Get Started:
You eliminate sugars, grains, and junk food and replace them with whole foods with a few exceptions. For every dish you like that isn’t Keto you can usually make substitutions to them and make them fit your plan. Here is a great food list that shows what is best to eat.
Keto tends to be a very easy plan to follow – especially once you are fat adapted and burning ketone efficiently – usually a couple weeks into your lifestyle change. Once you understand what to avoid it becomes almost effortless. I’m not going to lie to you – it’s not as easy as reaching for a processed protein bar or a bowl of cereal. It does take some planning to get it right and you probably won’t get it right every day. But every day you’ll get better.
You’ll learn to pay attention to signals from your body as you begin to eat more mindfully. Eat until you are satisfied, not overly full.
That said, here are a few signals to watch for.
The Keto Flu
The first few weeks you may experience a few side effects as your body begins to detox. Sugar can be addicting and it’s not always easy to kick the habit. You may notice what we call the ‘Keto Flu’ symptoms:
- Brain fog
- Leg cramps
There are a few things you can do to get through these few days. Add sodium by drinking 1 or 2 cups of broth or bouillon. Increase water and fiber for constipation and take magnesium (Natural Calm) for the leg cramps. The Keto Diet is a diuretic – you drink a lot of water but you also eliminate a lot. Since you are also eliminating electrolytes, you need to replace them. You can do that easily with sodium and/or a DIY electrolyte replacement drink, or by using the supplements listed below.
I know it sounds counterintuitive but having the Keto Flu is a great sign that your body is depleting its glycogen stores and ketosis is right around the corner. That being said, the symptoms don’t HAVE to be severe. Try these supplements to avoid or lessen the severity of the Keto Flu:
Types of Keto Diets
One thing to keep in mind is that there are a few different types of Keto Diets, depending on your needs, goals, and activity levels. They are The Standard Keto, the High Protein Keto, and the Cyclical Keto which utilizes carb-ups. There are others, but these are the basic ones.
You may start with Standard and then feel you need to lower fat and raise protein you may switch to High Protein, or you may start working out and want to move to Cyclical to do some carb ups. That’s perfectly okay.
To decide which is best for you, I’ll outline them below:
Standard Keto –
This is the one that most people think of when they hear ‘Keto Diet’. It’s 20-50 grams of net carbs daily with moderate protein and high fat. It usually fits just about anyone and any lifestyle and is great for starting out and losing fat. It’s a great Keto diet for beginners.
If you are doing one of the other versions but have fallen off the wagon and rolled down a hill and want to climb back on it you’d want to switch to this version again to get you into ketosis as quickly as possible. This is a deep low carb high-fat version and is great after a deviation.
High Protein Keto
This version maxes out at 50 grams of carbs per day but the protein is a bit higher (but not enough to elevate your blood sugar and cause your body to get out of ketosis) and the fat just a bit lower.
This version is great for breaking a stall. Many people – me included – reach a plateau with Standard Keto. It feels like you’re doing everything right and by the book but your weight just stays the same. It’s like your body is deciding to burn the fat you’re eating rather than the fat around your body.
This version is great for folks who are looking for a little more protein.
This version uses 50 grams of carbs maximum on the first phase (5-6 days) and 450 – 600 grams on carb loading days (1-2 days). It’s also a moderate protein version and is great for athletes and bodybuilders. You hear it referred to as up-down Keto and is similar to the 5/2 version of Intermittent Fasting.
More Info on These Methods
I’ve very gently scratched the surface of these methods. You can get complete information on them – and others – over at Healthful Pursuit – LeAnne Vogel has a great site with so much information about using carb ups to aid in your weight loss. She has several different methods for Keto that can make your Keto diet work much better! She is the author of The Keto Beginning and Fat Fueled – both very in-depth programs – or get them as a bundle to save some money. She has Weekly meal plans too! If you want a print book to hold in your hands, see her book The Keto Diet.
Tracking Progress For Ketosis
You may want to use these urine strips to measure ketones or the more accurate method of testing your blood using a Precision Xtra meter.
Of the two, testing your blood with a meter is much more accurate and uses a tiny sampling of blood. You’re looking for a blood ketone reading of 0.5mM/L or higher. Since ketones are lower in the morning it’s important that you test at the same time every day so your readings are more accurate. It’s not necessary to test daily once you can tell where you are by the signals you get from your body.
If you are using the blood ketones meter and trying to evaluate how your body reacts to a certain food, it’s best to test 2 hours after ingestion. The same goes for working out – test 2 hours later for accuracy.
The urine strips are the least accurate method and even less accurate once you are keto-adapted. They can also throw false positives – if you are dehydrated it can show up as high levels of ketones.
You can calculate your Macros HERE.
Tips for Getting Started on Keto:
- Decide which type of Ketogenic Diet you plan to follow. You can always alter it later.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water – at least 8 glasses per day. You can add flavorings so it’s not so boring. I like to use my SodaStream and make ginger ale using Stevia drops, lemon juice, lime juice, and ginger juice. They’re so much less expensive now than when I got mine 4 years ago!
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up, or a cup of warm water with lemon juice.
- Counteract any Keto Flu symptoms by getting enough salt and taking magnesium. I use Natural Calm. It’s great for restless legs and sleep in general. I use it to make an electrolyte replacement drink that’s great for mild dehydration!
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep. (See Natural Calm, above!) You need between 7 and 9 hours every night. Restrict caffeine if you need to, and eliminate screen time at least an hour before bed.
- Plan your meals so you stay on track. I have a meal planner over in the Keto Cupboard – our free resource library. One tip: try to have something savory for breakfast – especially the first month or so. Even the sweetness of natural sugar (Stevia, etc) can trigger a sugar craving. Coming off off an overnight fast will make it that much more intense.
- Clear your cupboards of anything that will tempt you, especially sugar and sugar-laden foods. Your cravings will be strong because you are breaking a sugar addiction. Be kind to yourself and clean the cupboards out.
- Have your macros calculated and begin tracking after the first week or so. I always say don’t track the first few days. Cut carbs, increase the fats. Tracking can add undue stress that just isn’t needed the first few days. You have time. You can calculate your Macros HERE when you’re ready.
- Don’t eat out during the first couple of weeks if you can help it. Make sure you’re in control of what goes in your body. If you do need to eat out, stick to a salad with protein at first before you venture too far out on the menu. That’s one nice thing about living in Texas – there’s always a sauce-free brisket right around the corner!
- Weigh and measure – weekly.
As you can see, Keto just takes some planning. If you follow it step by step:
- Choose your plan
- Plan your meals
- Eat your food and don’t fear the fat
- Track your progress
– you can get there!
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